A History of Golf on the First Coast & The PLAYERS Championship

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Golf on Florida’s First Coast dates back to the late 1800s.  Henry Flagler saw golf’s value as both an amenity for his hotel chain and a free promotional tool to reach newspaper readers in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, New York and Boston.  He used golf professionals and tournaments to advertise the resorts connected to his Florida First Coast Railroad. 

 

The first great professional match to pit a reigning U.S. Open Champion against the reigning British Open Champion took place on February 17, 1900. Willie Smith faced British great Harry Vardon at the 9-hole St. Augustine Golf Club. In the one-day 36-hole match Smith battled back from a seven-down deficit to lose 2&1. 

 

In the late 1930s the PGA of America awarded the Ponte Vedra Inn and Club the 1939 Ryder Cup Matches. The cover on the September 1939 issue of PGA Magazine featured an aerial photo of their famous island green. When WWII broke out in August 1939 the British team had to cancel the event. These matches never returned to Ponte Vedra Beach. 

 

In 1951 the forerunner to the LPGA’s Jacksonville Open was the Ponte Vedra Beach Women’s Open. It was played over the Ponte Vedra Inn and Club’s Ocean Course. The event drew a field of top women players. It was won by future World Golf Hall of Fame Member Babe Didrikson Zaharias.

 

Ponte Vedra Beach again came into the world focus when the PGA Tour brought the then named Tournament Players Championship to Sawgrass Country Club in 1977.  Over the next five years stellar champions like Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino and Ray Floyd won on the difficult course. 

 

Commissioner Deane Beman so enjoyed the Ponte Vedra Beach area he decided it would be a perfect home for the PGA Tour organization as well. Unable to purchase Sawgrass CC from the owners he sought a new site. Beman purchased 415 acres from local developers Jerome and Paul Fletcher for $1. From the swamp and marshland rose PGA Tour Headquarters and TPC (Tournament Players Club) Sawgrass. The now famous Pete Dye design opened in Fall 1980.

 

Following a year delay the first PLAYERS Championship on the site was played in March 1982.  The end of that tournament was punctuated by champion Jerry Pate tossing both Dye and Beman into the lake on behalf of the players, many who felt the course was unduly difficult and challenging.   

 

Now over 40 years later The PLAYERS, TPC Sawgrass, the famous 17th Island Green , and Ponte Vedra Beach have become a major face in the world of golf.   

 

 

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